Winters in Upper Michigan are unpredictable. One year, you get so much snow you can’t get out your front door, the next year you can mow your lawn on Christmas. One day you’re climbing ice in a t-shirt and the next you’re shivering on belay wearing every layer you own. The key to comfort in these ever changing conditions is apparel that adapts to the weather and the Alpha Direct Jacket from Rab might be one of the most adaptable pieces I’ve seen.
The Alpha Direct is designed to be a cold weather midlayer or a sort-of-cold weather outer layer, making it a piece you will wear day after day, no matter what the conditions bring. I’ve worn it climbing at 20 degrees and under a shell shoveling snow at -5 degrees.
At the heart of the Alpha Directs adaptability is it’s insulation. The Polartec Alpha is one of the most breathable insulations I’ve tested. This allows the jacket to go from standing to moving without having to shed layers. Warmth is subjective but I found the sweet spot for being active in this jacket to be around 10-20 degrees. At those temps I could comfortably wear it to approach an ice climb, get set up, climb, and belay my partner. No swapping layers. The soft fleece interior is super comfortable. Seriously. It feels great next to the skin making it ideal to wear over a t-shirt. The fleece does grab at other layers, but the thumb holes in the stretch cuffs keeps everything in place.The outer fabric is light and highly water resistant Pertex Microlight. The fabric is durable without being stiff and easily sheds heavy snow and even water dripping off of a wet climb. The insulation and shell materials combine to create a light, compressible and especially versatile jacket.
The Alpha Direct is designed for climbers and has tons of features a climber will appreciate. An under-helmet hood is something that I wish more jackets had. It makes it easy to wear two hoods at the same time. When you don’t don’t want the hood it rolls out of the way and stashes with a velcro tab reducing bulk. The Alpha Direct also features a two way zipper and glove friendly zipper pulls, key features when you’re climbing ice.
One of the most important aspects of a jackets function is fit. The Alpha Direct has an “Alpine Fit”, which means it’s cut pretty slim. The fit works to reduce bulk as well as making it warmer, but may leave some wearers who are used to roomier jackets feeling a little claustrophobic. I’m 6’2, 170 pounds and usually wear a medium jacket. I found the medium Alpha Direct to fit pretty snuggly across the chest with good length in the body and sleeves. If you prefer a slightly looser fit you may want consider sizing up.
Being made for climbers doesn’t mean that the Alpha Direct isn’t an every day jacket. It transitions easily from home, to climb, to bar and back again. The technical features are wrapped in a stylish package that I was happy to wear out on the town. One unintended feature of the Pertex Microlight shell fabric is its ability to shed dog hair. As the owner two trail dogs it was a nice surprise to get a black jacket that didn’t look like something PETA would disapprove of.
Whether you’re climbing, skiing or digging out the car after the most recent U.P. blizzard, the Rab Alpha Direct will meet your changing needs, and it will do it with style. If you want to check out this sweet jacket, or any of the other winter apparel from Rab, make sure you stop by Ice Fest Headquarters.